Women on Fire: Black Women Make History as Trailblazers of Metro Area Fire Departments | Atlanta, Georgia

  • AUTHOR: admin
  • POSTED ON: March 5, 2021

African-American women have been fire extinguishers and firefighters in the past, but it seems like society is still surprised whenever they come across a female firefighter.

But, do you know that women have been a major part of this field ever since the 1800s? Black women, especially, have played an incredible role in this department. Molly Williams was a volunteer firefighter in the New York City, who volunteered for Oceanus Fire Company #11 sometime during the 1815. She was the first Black female firefighter in the United States. 

She was also detained as a slave to a merchant named Benjamin Imer in the United States, who worked at the Oceanus Fire Company #1. At the time, she was called Volunteer No. 11. She looked a bit sturdy and wore calico dress and a check apron, and was described by men as a fire radii who is “as good as the boys”. Her service was greatly appreciated, as she worked incredibly hard during the 1818 snowstorm when a male firefighter had gotten ill due to influenza. It was this brave woman who stood alongside a man in a drag rope to pull the pump to the fire. She did all of this in difficult weather.

By April 1, 1963, there were 16 African-American firefighters who had joined the Atlanta Fire Department at Station 16. In 1977, Ruvenia Jenkins, Emma C. Morris, Janice Jones, Liz R. Summers, Lisa Bradley, Sheria Callaway, and Sheila Kirkland were amongst the seven women selected for firefighting in Atlanta. And that’s not it, because Emma C. Morris was hired as the first female driver of the Atlanta Fire Department and Summer was even promoted to the position of captainship. Today she is a retired captain of the battalion.

She said: “I have paved the way not only for women, but for other women and other minorities.”

When you compare the situation with the condition of the firefighting squads today, you’ll be surprised. African-American women not just have an essential role to play in the fire department, but they make up 4 percent of the 400,000 firefighters in the entire nation. NFPA also noted in 2018 that around 8 percent of the firefighters in the country are women, and that roughly translates to 93,700 women. That means the statistics have improved significantly – not as much as they should have, but we’ve come a long way considering the big jump in the numbers.

Do you know that today, two African-American woman are serving as Fire Chiefs at fire departments countrywide?

Back in 2002, Rosemary MacLeod was hired as the first Fire Chief of East Point City. She was also an Assistant Fire Chief at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. In 2009, Washington became the first city to hire an African-American woman as its Fire Chief Emergency Manager. Toni Washington is one of the two female chiefs in Decatur, Georgia as of now. There’s also Valerie Jackson who became the Assistant Fire Chief of the Atlanta City Fire Department. It’s incredibly nice to know that she’s been actively working there for the past 22 years!

Honestly, women can do anything once they put their mind to it – no stereotype can define their worth and capability. Happy Women’s History Month!

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Updated March 5, 2021
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